Since Ethical Bean began in 2003, our non-recyclable packaging has been a thorn in our sides. On the one hand, ethical is literally our name, and creating a product mindful of its ultimate lifecycle is a huge part of that. On the other hand, we are also working on a sustainable, viable business that requires that we sell a bag of coffee of exceptional quality that tastes fresh. Here’s a sampling of some questions we usually get.
Are your bags recyclable?
This has been an ongoing quest for us. During a redesign in 2009, we tested, tried, and tampered with biodegradable and recyclable options, none of which were able to provide the long-term freshness we need to protect those delicately roasted beans. We began to collect used foil-lined coffee bags as part of our Take-Back Program (including used coffee bags from of our competitors) and store them until we found a more sustainable solution. We toyed with the idea of incinerating them, but were quickly informed of the terrible environmental impacts of incineration by the vibrant environmental community in Vancouver and took corrective action.
What about upcycling?
We could be upcycling many of our returned bags into other bags, pencil kits, and messenger bags by a number of organizations locally and beyond. While this would create a second life for these bags, the large volume of bags we currently have stored means this isn’t a sustainable option. Having said that, we’re always happy to give these bags to any designers or artist that wish to work with them.
Shouldn’t you be looking into a biodegradable or recyclable bag for the long-term?
We are. This is the most important step moving forward. Thanks to the B Corp community, we know that we are not the only organization facing this problem. In fact, almost every coffee company is in the same boat trying to find a better bag. To these ends, we have joined the Sustainable Packaging Coalition working together to research recyclable options that also preserve freshness. This is an exciting development, and a very cool example of like-minded businesses working together towards a solution that benefits everyone –our global commons, the environment!
What are you going to do with the bags you have?
For internal purposes, we have been upcycling small amounts of the bags through a very cool US-based organization called TrasheBags. While we would have loved to support a local upcycling organization, we ended up using a Colorado based business (despite the shipping footprint) for our upcycling because we only needed a small volume, and they are only able to produce in small quantities. Our next blog is all about them so stay tuned for our interview with their founder and CEO Patricia Byrd.
We have also been in talks with an organization that may be able to separate the components of our bags and recycle them into completely different products. Stay tuned to our blog for more information.
That’s the scoop. This is the first a couple of blogs to be released on this topic. As always, welcome your feedback and suggestions as we tackle this on-going issue.